Industrial Safety

views updated May 11 2018

Industrial Safety

The issue of industrial safety evolved concurrently with industrial development in the United States. Of central importance was the establishment of protective legislation, most significantly the worker's compensation laws, enacted at the start of the twentieth century, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, enacted in 1970. The discussion of industrial safety began to shift in the 1970s from one concerned primarily with compensation issues to one concerned with prevention and with the study of long-term effects of occupational hazards. This shift in emphasis was encouraged by insurance companies who, in order to protect themselves from workers' compensation expenses, found that it made good business sense for them to promote industrial safety programs and research industrial safety issues. Today, industrial safety is widely regarded as one of the most important factors that any business, large or small, must consider in its operations.

Worker's compensation laws vary widely from state to state but have key objectives in common. Employers are required to compensate employees for work-related injuries or sickness by paying medical expenses, disability benefits, and compensation for lost work time. In return, workers are barred in many instances from suing their employers, a provision that protects employers from large liability settlements (of course, employers may still be found liable in instances where they are found guilty of neglect or other legal violations). In his Industrial Safety: Management and Technology, David Colling contended that "workmen's compensation laws have done more to promote safety than all other measures collectively, because employers found it more cost-effective to concentrate on safety than to compensate employees for injury or loss of life."


One of the key developments in industrial safety legislation was the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The Act, which was the first comprehensive industrial safety legislation passed at the federal level, passed nearly unanimously through both houses of Congress. One of the factors contributing to strong support for the act was the rise in the number of work-related fatalities in the 1960s, and particularly the Farmington, West Virginia, mine disaster of 1968, in which 78 miners were killed. The Occupational Safety and Health Act was distinguished by its emphasis on the prevention ofrather than compensation forindustrial accidents and illnesses. The legislation provided for the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Among the key provisions of the act were the development of mandatory safety and health standards, the enforcement of these standards, and standardized record-keeping and reporting procedures for businesses.

OSHA regulations cover all private-sector employers with one or more workers and are therefore an area of regulatory law about which small businesses must be away. OSHA regulations do not, however, cover employers in the public sector (municipal, county, state, or federal government agencies); self-employed individuals; family members operating a farm; or domestic household workers.

OSHA issues regulations governing a wide range of worker safety areas, all intended to meet OSHA's overriding principle that "each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his [or her] employees." OSHA regulations include both safety standards, designed to prevent accidents, and health standards, designed to protect against exposure to toxins and to address the more long-term effects of occupational hazards. So-called "horizontal" standards apply to all industries whereas "vertical" standards apply to specific industries or occupations. Some of OSHA's standards were adopted from private national organizations, such as the American National Standards Institute, the National Fire Protection Association, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Other standards are developed by OSHA itself, often based on recommendations from NIOSH.

When OSHA drafts a proposal for a permanent standard, it first consults with industry and labor representatives and collects whatever scientific, medical, and engineering data is necessary to ensure that the standard adequately reflects workplace realities. Proposed standards are published in the Federal Register. A comment period is then held, during which input is received from interested parties including, but not limited to, representatives of industry and labor. At the close of the comment period, the proposal may be withdrawn and set aside, withdrawn and re-proposed with modifications, or approved as a final standard that is legally enforceable. All standards that become legally binding are first published in the Federal Register and then compiled and published in the Code of Federal Regulations. The cause of industrial safety has also been reinforced by the passage of significant "right-to-know" laws. Right-to-Know laws require that dangerous materials in the workplace be identified and that workers be informed of these dangers as well as trained in their safe use.

In addition to federal worker health and safety laws, individual states are permitted to develop and operate their own job safety and health programs. If the state can show that its job safety and health standards are "at least as effective as" comparable federal standards, the state can be certified to assume OSH Act administration and enforcement in that state. OSHA approves and monitors state plans, and provides up to 50 percent of operating costs for approved plans.


One of the important aspects of industrial safety programs is the identification of hazards. Managers typically determine hazards by the examination of accident records, interviews with engineers and equipment operators, and the advice of safety specialists, such as OSHA or insurance companies. Industrial health hazards are typically categorized into three classes: chemical hazards, in which the body absorbs toxins; ergonomic hazards, such as those resulting from improper lifting or repetitive stress; and physical hazards, in which the worker is exposed to temperature extremes, atmospheric pressure, dangerous conditions, or excessive noise.

About one-tenth of industrial accidents result from operating machinery, and these accidents often result in severe injury. Among the most dangerous types of machinery are power presses and woodworking tools, which most commonly cause injury to the hands. A number of mechanisms have been developed to safeguard against such injuries. The simplest of these are barrier guards, in which the moving parts of machinery are enclosed in a protective housing. These safeguards are typically used in conjunction with sensors so that the machine cannot be operated without them. Other types of safeguards include those which prevent a machine from operating unless a worker has both hands properly in place, automated material feeding devices, warning labels, and color coding.

Toxins are most commonly ingested through inhalation, and the most commonly inhaled substances are dust, fumes, and smoke. Toxins are also commonly absorbed through the skin, and this is a bigger problem than many business owners and managers realize. Indeed, some studies indicate that skin disorders result in approximately 200,000 lost working days each year. The most common of these disorders is dermatitis, which is particularly problematic in the food preparation and chemical industries.

Among the most commonly-used toxins are industrial solvents. The toxicity of solvents varies widely by type, but the most toxic of these are carcinogens and can cause permanent damage to the nervous system through prolonged occupational overexposure. In addition, organic solvents, such as those made from petroleum, are often highly flammable. Tightly-fitted respirators with activated charcoal filters are used to protect against inhalation of organic solvents, particularly in spraying applications in which solvents are atomized. Ventilation systems comprised of fans and ducts are also used to control airborne toxins of all types. Rubber gloves are commonly used to prevent skin absorption of organic solvents.

One of the most rapidly-growing types of reported occupational injury is what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as "disorders associated with repeated trauma." These conditions result from repeatedly performing the same tasks over a prolonged period of time.


All companies, including small businesses, are required to keep records on various aspects of their operations that are relevant to employee safety and health. All employers covered by the OSH Act are required to keep records regarding enforcement of OSHA standards; research records; job-related injury, illness, and death records; and job hazard records.

But while small businesses must adhere to many of the same regulations that govern the operations or larger companies, there also are several federal industrial safety programs available exclusively to smaller business enterprises, and OSHA and state regulatory agencies both enjoy some discretion in adjusting penalties for industrial safety violations for small companies. For example, OSHA has discretion to grant monetary penalty reductions of up to 60 percent for businesses that qualify as small firms. It also gives smaller firms greater flexibility in certain safety areas (i.e., lead in construction, emergency evacuation plans, process safety management) in recognition of their limited resources, and provides grants to nonprofit groups with explicit mandates of addressing safety and health issues in small business settings.

see also Occupational Safety and Health Administration; Workers Compensation; Workplace Safety


Colling, David A. Industrial Safety: Management and Technology. Prentice Hall, 1990.

Genn, Adina. "Three Bills Would Expand OSHA Standards." Daily Record (Kansas City, MO). 13 February 2006.

Karr, Al. "Behavior-Based Safety: Is It the Holy Grail of the Workplace?" Safety and Health. March 2000.

Marsh, Barbara. "Workers at Risk: Chance of Getting Hurt is Generally Far Higher at Small Companies." Wall Street Journal. 3 February 1994.

U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA's Small Business Outreach Training Program. Available from Retrieved on 14 March 2006.

Willen, Janet. "Safety Incentive Programs: Problem Solver or Troublemaker?" Safety and Health. September 2000.

Yohay, Stephen C. "Recent Court Decisions on Important OSHA Enforcement Issues." Employee Relations Law Journal. Spring 1997.

                                Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                                  updated by Magee, ECDI

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

views updated May 17 2018


The mission of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is to assure that every U.S. worker goes home whole and healthy every day. Toward that end, the agency sets and enforces workplace safety and health standards, encourages voluntary compliance through consultation and partnerships, and promotes safety training and education for workers and employers. Since Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act), which created OSHA as an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor, workplace fatalities have been cut in half and occupational injury and illness rates have declined 40 percent. At the same time, U.S. employment has nearly doubled.

Under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful work environment in line with standards set by OSHA. Protecting workers against workplace hazards requires every employer and every worker to make safety and health a top priority. OSHA's charge is to offer leadership and encouragement to workers and employers in carrying out this responsibility. OSHA has a staff of about 2,250, including about 1,250 inspectors in 67 field offices. Sharing the responsibility for oversight of workplace safety and health are twenty-five states that run their own OSHA programs with about 2,800 employees, including about 1,250 inspectors.

Early OSHA standards focused primarily on safety and establishing precise safety requirements, such as the specific height for guardrails on stairs. Newer standards take a performance or program approach, identifying a safety or health objective and providing a framework for employers to use in achieving that goal. OSHA standards cover the gamut of workplace safety and health issues, including machine guarding, fall protection, chemical-hazard communication, and protection against blood-borne pathogens such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and hepatitis B.

OSHA's enforcement program has changed dramatically over the years. The agency has continually attempted to target its resources toward the most hazardous worksites, as well as respond to worker complaints and investigate fatal accidents. Initially, OSHA focused on sites in industries with high injury rates. More recently, OSHA has obtained site-specific injury and illness data and has been able to concentrate on individual sites with poor safety and health records. The agency conducts about 35,000 inspections each year; states running their own OSHA programs inspect an additional 55,000 workplaces. To foster voluntary compliance with OSHA standards and assist employers in setting up ongoing safety and health programs, OSHA offers free consultations and seeks to establish partnerships with individual workplaces and with trade groups and unions.

The OSHA consultation program, designed for smaller employers, provides free assistance to employers who request help with safety and health programs and specific problems. Employers agree in advance to correct serious hazards identified by the consultant. The consultation program is administered by state authorities and is completely separate from the enforcement effort. OSHA's premier partnership is the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). Individual workplaces that meet criteria for excellence in safety and health may apply to the agency for VPP recognition. VPP sites serve as models for their industries and their communities, and they average 50 percent fewer injuries than their non-VPP counterparts. The OSHA Strategic Partnership Program (OSPP) is open to sites with a similar commitment but varying levels of achievement. It includes both national and regional partnerships. These partnerships combine the resources of OSHA, trade groups, and unions to develop successful strategies for preventing injuries and illnesses and measure the results.

To further assist employers and workers, OSHA maintains an extensive web site ( that includes the agency's standards, publications, training materials, interactive software covering specific standards and hazards, small business information, an online complaint filing system for workers, and links to many other sources of information on job safety and health. The agency also offers safety and health training at its Chicagoarea training institute and through twelve educational centers located at community colleges and universities around the country. OSHA is developing satellite-delivered and web-based training programs to make its training available to a wider audience. Through its New Directions grants, OSHA encourages nonprofit organizations such as unions and trade associations to develop additional training materials and offer training courses.

Improving work environments is a long-term proposition that requires daily diligence and ongoing commitment in the face of competing priorities for time, energy, and resources. OSHA's mandate is to aid employers and employees to make this commitment and continually pursue excellence in job safety and health.

occupational Safety and Health Administration

(see also: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; Occupational Safety and Health; Occupational Safety and Health Administration )


Occupational Safety and Health Administration. All About OSHA. (OSHA 2056). Available at

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

views updated May 14 2018

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970). Within the Department of Labor, OSHA has the responsibility for occupational safety and health activities pursuant to the Act which covers virtually every employer in the country except all types of mines which are regulated separately under the Mine Safety and Health Act (1977). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration develops and promulgates standards, develops and issues regulations, conducts inspections to insure compliance, and issues citations and proposes penalties. In the case of a disagreement over the results of safety and health inspections performed by OSHA, employers have the right of appeal to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, which works to ensure the timely and fair resolution of these cases.



U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, 200 Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C. USA 20210 Toll Free: (800) 321-OSHA, <>

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